COVID-19, News, Trump Administration

Trump’s $400 a week jobless aid could be just $300. It depends on where you live.

Commentary, Trump Administration

The Right’s war on the Postal Service goes back several decades

For those who haven’t been paying especially close attention, it would be easy to get the mistaken impression that the recent assault on the U.S. Postal Service by President Trump and his Postmaster General — Greensboro plutocrat, Louis DeJoy — was something driven only by recent events and, in particular, Trump’s obvious desire to manipulate voting by mail in order to secure reelection.

As a report issued by the good folks at the national research and advocacy organization In the Public Interest documented a couple of weeks back, however, this is not the case. The American Right’s war on the Postal Service actually goes back 50 years and is linked closely to — surprise!! — efforts of the infamous right-wing billionaire, Charles Koch.

This is from the executive summary to “The Billionaire Behind Efforts to Kill the U.S. Postal Service”:

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the already-struggling U.S. Postal Service to the brink of financial collapse. But the most trusted and popular institution in America hasn’t been struggling by accident. Since the 1970s, a concerted effort to popularize the fringe idea of privatizing the Postal Service has been advanced for nearly five decades with the support of one man: the billionaire and libertarian ideologue, Charles Koch, chairman and chief executive officer of Koch Industries.

It’s a sobering and maddening read, but it’s worth a few minutes to get a fuller grasp of how greedy ideologues are aiming to destroy one of the most important public institutions in our country.

Click here to explore the report.

COVID-19, News, Trump Administration

Trump moves to extend unemployment benefits, suspend payroll taxes after talks break down

President Donald Trump on Saturday circumvented Congress and took action into his own hands, after weeks of unsuccessful negotiations over another coronavirus relief package on Capitol Hill.

He signed three presidential memoranda and an executive order, at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Trump would provide $300 per week in federal unemployment assistance with another $100 a week kicked in by states, consider temporarily stopping residential evictions, pause federal student loan payments and defer payroll taxes.

Trump said the actions would “take care of pretty much this entire situation, as we know it.” But Democrats in Congress are likely to continue pushing for a broader legislative package similar to the $3 trillion relief bill the House passed in May.

The president’s actions on unemployment benefits in particular and the attempted transfer of funds from another federal agency are likely to be met with loud objections from Congress and state officials and potentially a legal challenge.

“Trump is trying to put a bandaid on the economic crisis with unconstitutional, illegal, logistically unworkable executive orders that contain bad policy,” Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia tweeted. “This isn’t a solution, it is a con.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a statement Saturday night said Trump’s announcements would mean “little real help” for families.

“For instance, not only does the President’s announcement not actually extend the eviction moratorium, it provides no assistance to help pay the rent, which will only leave desperate families to watch their debt pile higher,” they said. “Instead of passing a bill, now President Trump is cutting families’ unemployment benefits and pushing states further into budget crises, forcing them to make devastating cuts to life-or-death services.”

The memo on unemployment benefits provides $44 billion from a Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund that would make up 75 percent of the extended benefits. States would have to contribute the other 25 percent.

That means unemployed Americans would receive an extra $400 per week on top of their normal state benefits, with the federal government providing $300 and the state $100. Unemployment benefits approved in an earlier coronavirus relief package, which amounted to $600 a week in addition to state unemployment aid, expired in July, leaving millions without cash assistance they are relying on to stay financially afloat during the pandemic.

Trump encouraged states to use the money they received directly from the $2 trillion relief bill he signed in March, but states have said they need those funds—and more—for other pandemic responses.

Groups representing state and local governments have also criticized the administration’s accounting of state spending, creating even more uncertainty about how much is available. A July 23 Treasury Department report said states had spent only 25 percent of the $139 billion they received in the earlier relief bill. The National Association of State Budget Officers responded that states had allocated nearly 75 percent.

The executive order on housing directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “consider” whether more action to halt evictions is necessary. It also tasks the departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development with looking for additional funds to provide renters and homeowners with “temporary financial assistance.”

The student loan memo allows borrowers not to pay for the rest of the year and sets interest rates to 0 percent, a suspension Trump also had ordered earlier this year that was included in the CARES Act.

The last memo allows employers to defer until 2021 the payment of payroll taxes for employees making less than $104,000 per year. “This modest, targeted action will put money directly in the pockets of American workers and generate additional incentives for work and employment, right when the money is needed most,” Trump said in the memo.

At the signing ceremony, he said, “If I’m victorious, November 3 I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax and to make them more permanent.”

Trump on Friday had blamed congressional Democrats for not reaching a legislative deal. Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

The Right’s troubling war on the Postal Service: three “must reads”

Image: Adobe Stock

With the fall election almost underway and President Trump trailing badly in the polls, there are growing concerns that Trump and his minions may attempt to interfere with the voting-by-mail option that millions of Americans plan to use to cast their ballots. What’s more, the recent appointment of a right-wing plutocrat and Trump loyalist from North Carolina named Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General is doing nothing to allay these concerns.

Here are three “must reads” from the past few days that caring and thinking people may want to explore in order to get a handle on this troubling situation:

#1 – Yesterday’s lead Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com — “Mail service critical to 2020 elections, Trump needs to end irresponsible attacks.” After explaining that DeJoy has taken steps to slow mail delivery by, among other things, cutting overtime as mail volume has increased, the editorial explains:

“As state and local election boards have been working to expand voting opportunities and shore up absentee voting by mail to accommodate our life-saving need to be socially distant, Trump’s postal service is making critical voting by mail and absentee voting less reliable. That is the REAL voter fraud here – not the phony scenarios the president has conjured up.”

#2 – An article by a veteran journalist with North Carolina connections, Alex Kotch, for the Center for Media and Democracy, entitled “Trump Megadonor in Charge of U.S. Postal Service Poses Grave Threat to U.S. Elections.” As Koch explains:

“As DeJoy slows down the Postal Service, the Republican National Committee is using $114,500 of DeJoy’s money, along with millions more from numerous GOP billionaires and multimillionaires, to sue states that have passed laws to expand mail-in voting, according to Sludge. GOP benefactors helped give the RNC’s legal proceedings account a $23 million budget to block vote-by-mail proposals in some states and fight enacted policies in others. Many of these states are swing states that could determine the result of the presidential contest.”

#3 – An article by North Carolina A&T professor and former Postal Service employee Philip Rubio for the progressive website The Baffler entitled “You’ve Got No Mail.” As Rubio puts it:

“DeJoy’s policies represent the latest and most aggressive cuts in what has been a disturbing trend since 2011. First-class mail is now being curtailed at mail processing centers and post offices, in violation of both labor agreements and Title 39. Postal workers have accused the USPS of getting Americans used to slowing service and accepting privatization. Before these “operational changes,” April 2020 poll results noted a steady 91 percent public approval rating for the USPS despite prior cuts, as more people apparently realize the USPS’s importance and object to its degradation.

…With postal workers now especially worried about mail-in ballots being delayed this November, how will they react to being ordered not to use overtime to transport those ballots—or coronavirus test kits and vaccines?”

All in all, it’s another disastrous mess perpetrated by the Trump administration and its enablers. All patriotic Americans should be speaking out against this attempted heist.

News, Trump Administration

Top Homeland Security official vows federal agents ‘will not back away’ from violent protests

A federal officer tells the crowd to move while dispersing a protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s Number Two at the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday defended federal law enforcement officers’ intervention in protests in Portland, Oregon, and other cities this summer.

Characterizing some of the protests as “mob rule,” Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told lawmakers  that federal agents could exert force in other cities if violent protests break out.

“DHS will not back away from our responsibilities to protect federal property, the people using those properties, and our brave law enforcement officers,” Cuccinelli said at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

Many of the protests in Portland have centered around the Mark O.Hatfield Federal Courthouse. President Donald Trump dispatched Homeland Security agents to Portland in July to protect federal property and respond to demonstrations that he and Cuccinelli have characterized as stemming from violent extremist groups.

“This country cannot survive allowing mob rule to replace the rule of law… they are not just attacking a federal court house but they are attacking very foundations that make the enjoyment of our natural rights possible, the rule of law itself,” Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli’s remarks follow a wave of criticism from Democrats and local leaders in Portland about the presence of federal law enforcement

Ken Cuccinelli – Photo: Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury

in the city– where demonstrations escalated into nightly clashes between protesters and federal officers. Viral videos showed officers in military fatigues using pepper balls and forceful tactics to clear streets and grabbing protesters to drive them away in unmarked cars. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has blamed federal agents for escalating conflict.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Trump administration reached an agreement last week for the federal agents to leave the city in phases, allowing local police to address the situation. Portland has seen weeks of demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis in police custody.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of the committee, joined the hearing remotely and said she supports federal law enforcement. “They are protecting people who are coming peaceably to express their opinion and assemble, and at the same time having to deal with these rioters there to destroy property to harm people,” Blackburn said.

When officers put on their uniforms, “they don’t know if there are going to be peaceful protestors or if there are going to be the disruptors and destroyers that show up that they are going to have to deal with,” she said.

In late May, Memphis and Nashville both saw peaceful protests turn violent after dark, with damage to public and private property and police using  tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds. In one outburst, people set Historic Metro Nashville City Hall on fire.

On July Fourth, thousands marched in Nashville in a Black Lives Matter demonstration. That night, Tennessee police arrested 55 violators for criminal trespassing. In both cases, organizers of the daytime protests said their groups were not connected with the destructive action at night.

Legislative proposals

Congressional Democrats have decried the Trump administration’s involvement in the Portland protests. Read more